Thermal lensing in ocular media
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This research was a collaborative effort between the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the University of Texas to examine the laser-tissue interaction of thermal lensing induced by continuous-wave, CW, near-infrared, NIR, laser radiation in the eye and its influence on the formation of a retinal lesion from said radiation. CW NIR laser radiation can lead to a thermal lesion induced on the retina given sufficient power and exposure duration as related to three basic parameters; the percent of transmitted energy to, the optical absorption of, and the size of the laser-beam created at the retina. Thermal lensing is a well-known phenomenon arising from the optical absorption, and subsequent temperature rise, along the path of the propagating beam through a medium. Thermal lensing causes the laser-beam profile delivered to the retina to be time dependent. Analysis of a dual-beam, multidimensional, high-frame rate, confocal imaging system in an artificial eye determined the rate of thermal lensing in aqueous media exposed to 1110, 1130, 1150 and 1318-nm wavelengths was related to the power density created along the optical axis and linear absorption coefficient of the medium. An adaptive optics imaging system was used to record the aberrations induced by the thermal lens at the retina in an artificial eye during steady-state. Though the laser-beam profiles changed over the exposure time, the CW NIR retinal damage thresholds between 1110-1319-nm were determined to follow conventional fitting algorithms which neglected thermal lensing. A first-order mathematical model of thermal lensing was developed by conjoining an ABCD beam propagation method, Beer's law of attenuation, and a solution to the heat-equation with respect to radial diffusion. The model predicted that thermal lensing would be strongest for small (< 4-mm) 1/e² laser-beam diameters input at the corneal plane and weakly transmitted wavelengths where less than 5% of the energy is delivered to the retina. The model predicted thermal lensing would cause the retinal damage threshold for wavelengths above 1300-nm to increase with decreasing beam-diameters delivered to the corneal plane, a behavior which was opposite of equivalent conditions simulated without thermal lensing.